The smell hit me as soon as I opened my car door—like rancid milk mixed with dog shit. I gasped for breath as humid air descended, filling my pores with the putrid odor.
“It’s been like this for three weeks,” Mary, the unhappy attendant at the deserted Central Marine boat dealer told me. “Last week it smelled like a dead animal. Today—I don’t even know.”
“Be careful out there,” she added as I headed off to the docks.
The reason for her warning was soon clear: at the water’s edge, the stench of fly-covered slime was almost impossible to bear. Eyes and lungs searing, I walked up and down the harbor snapping photos. The taste of the air was as bad as the smell.
This was my warm welcome to Stuart, Florida, whose St. Lucie estuary is currently suffocating under a vast, nutrient-fueled algae bloom. The St. Lucie is no stranger to algae, but this summer’s slime is fouler and more widespread than anything locals have ever seen.
Not only does the water look and smell like a sewer, it’s potentially a serious health hazard. The Department of Environmental Protection has begun detecting microcystins, cyanobacteria toxins which if ingested can cause nausea, vomiting, and liver failure. Locals exposed to the rank odor of “guacamole thick” algae mats have complained of rashes, eye and skin irritation. Tourism is taking a nosedive.
It could get worse before it gets better.
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Image: Maddie Stone
And this is no accident. What’s happened to the St. Lucie is the latest symptom of a problem that can be traced 35 miles west to Lake Okeechobee, where years of mismanagement and entrenched agricultural interests have precipitated one ecological crisis after another.
“This is absolutely, positively a Lake Okeechobee issue,” oceanographer Zack Jud told me when I arrived at Florida’s Oceanographic Society a few miles away to learn what the hell was going on. “That’s where the whole crux of this problem lies.”
The second largest freshwater lake located entirely within the continental US, Okeechobee used to be the beating heart of the Everglades, connecting freshwater from the Kissimmee river in the north to the sawgrass prairies stretching more than 100 miles south. That all changed in the 1930s, when the US Army Corps of Engineers erected the a vast dike system around the lake in order to drain lands for settlement and cultivation. It was the first of many decisions that would forever alter the hydrology and ecology of the Everglades.
But water was still entering the lake from the north, and it had to go somewhere. So the Army Corps dredged two canals—one west, to the Caloosahatchee river, another east to the St. Lucie. Today, these man-made flow paths are Lake Okeechobee’s overflow valves.
“Initially, this wasn’t a problem,” Jud said. “It becomes a problem when you look at how the lake is managed.”
When the Army Corps first girdled the lake, flood prevention was the key motivating factor. (In 1928, thousands of people drowned after a major hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow.) Flooding remains a major concern today, but for a slightly different reason: large, politically powerful sugar companies, which own most of the land due south of the lake.
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Lake Okeechobee isn’t supposed to be this green. Image: NASA Earth Observatory
Sugar farms depend on Lake Okeechobee’s dike system to keep their fields from becoming swamps. But they also rely on the lake as an irrigation reservoir. “These are two completely conflicting uses, and they helped set up this year’s catastrophic algae bloom,” Jud said.
The trouble started last fall, with the onset of strong El Niño conditions that brought boatloads of rain to central Florida. Instead of keeping Lake Okeechobee low, the state allowed the lake to fill up to ensure there was ample water to irrigate farms throughout what is normally a dry winter. Only this year—thanks once again to El Niño—it turned out to be a very wet winter.
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Coastal residents are fed up, and they have a right to be. Summer algae blooms like this have been a regular sight on the St. Lucie since 2011, and many feel that the state is ignoring a common-sense solution: restoring the natural flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades.
“We have too much freshwater flowing to the east and west, and not enough to the south,” Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, told me over breakfast in Coral Gables. “This year was the ultimate depiction of Lake Okeechobee’s problems.”
Two years back, Floridians voted overwhelmingly in support of a constitutional amendment which earmarked hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase land for exactly this purpose. Instead, the state used the money to buy anything and everything else in the name of conservation. Environmentalists blame the sugar lobby, which opposed the land purchase and has helpedbankroll the careers of prominent Florida politicians, including Governor Scott and Senator Marco Rubio.
Meanwhile, in response to public backlash the Army Corps says it’ll begin restricting the flow of polluted water out of Lake Okeechobee July 15. But as Army Corps spokesperson Jenn Miller told Gizmodo, the situation is week-by-week. “It’s all conditions-dependent,” she said, noting that the lake is currently 14.73 feet high. If heavy rains hit and the water level rises above 16 feet, the channels will have to be reopened to prevent an even bigger disaster.
Miller said that sending more water south is “absolutely” part of the long-term solution.
“My fear is that we have not seen the worst,” Jud said. “With 200 square miles of algae blooming on the lake, and conditions getting more and more favorable for algae growth, and the potential for rainfall to require additional discharges, I think we have the potential for things to get much worse before they get better.”
Pretty good, but this irritates me. It's like journalists have a checklist to fill out and capitalism must be blamed, no matter what.
That all changed in the 1930s, when the US Army Corps of Engineers erected the a vast dike system around the lake in order to drain lands for settlement and cultivation.
.... When the Army Corps first girdled the lake, flood prevention was the key motivating factor. (In 1928, thousands of people drowned after a major hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee to overflow.) Flooding remains a major concern today, but for a slightly different reason: large, politically powerful sugar companies, which own most of the land due south of the lake.
The trouble started last fall, with the onset of strong El Niño conditions that brought boatloads of rain to central Florida. Instead of keeping Lake Okeechobee low, the state allowed the lake to fill up to ensure there was ample water to irrigate farms throughout what is normally a dry winter.
And to address concerns of environmentalists, who have frequently complained that the Big O is more shallow than "natural".
There's an Australian team taking a similar approach, but instead of genetically modifying the mosquitoes, they are introducing a type of bacteria into the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. The bacteria prevents transmission of diseases such as dengue fever and Zika.
PBSO: ‘Crazy’ man head-butts store manager, jailed for pill possession
8:56 a.m. Thursday, July 28, 2016
BOCA RATON — A shirtless man with blood dripping from his forehead was arrested Tuesday afternoon after he head-butted a grocery store manager and threatened to harm a deputy, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said.
Kamal Dinari, 31, had more than 20 powerful pain-killer pills that hadn’t been prescribed to him, the sheriff’s office said. He was being held at the West Detention Center on 24 counts of possessing a control substance and one count of battery. His bail was set at $72,000.
The incident took place at Mission Bay Plaza at Glades Road and State Road 7 west of the city, according to a probable-cause affidavit made public Wednesday. Shoppers complained that Dinari was following them in the parking lot and trying to get into their cars. Some said he appeared to be “on drugs, crazy and (that) he also had blood coming from his head,” the affidavit said. It also said he was yelling at himself and began to take off his clothes.
A manager at the Fresh Market told deputies that Dinari almost got hit by a car. He went out to see if he had been injured, and Dinari responded by saying that he needed insurance and needed to go to the police, according to the affidavit.
Dinari then went into the and started to grab groceries from a customer’s cart. When the manager tried to take the groceries back, Dinari head-butted him, knocking the manager to the ground and cutting his upper lip.
When deputies arrived on the scene, one said that Dinari ran at him and said, “Kill me, I’ll kill you,” according to the report.
Without a shirt, shoes or socks on, Dinari kept yelling “Chicago,” while staring into the sky, the affidavit said. The deputies told him to get on the ground, but Dinari did not comply. He was taken to the ground by deputies and then put in handcuffs and leg restraints. He was taken to a hospital under the Baker Act for treatment and evaluation.
One deputy searched Dinari and found a clear plastic bottle with 24 unknown pills in it, that were later identified as Tramadol Hydrochloride, a pill prescribed for persistent pain. Dinari told police he got the pills from a friend.
Dinari does not have a prior criminal history in Palm Beach County, according to court records.
Woman fatally shot by Fla. police officer during gun demonstration
Outside of Punta Gorda, Florida Police Department on night of August 9, 2016
Last Updated Aug 10, 2016 1:17 AM EDT
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - A woman was shot and killed by a police officer in front more than 30 people Tuesday evening during a live gun demonstration at police headquarters here, the department said.
Mary Knowlton was one of two Citizen Police Academy students chosen to participate in a "shoot/don't shoot" role-playing situation, reports CBS Fort Myers, Florida affiliate WINK-TV, citing Punta Gorda police. The demonstration was meant to instruct the class on making decisions "using simulated lethal force," according to Chief Thomas Lewis.
Knowlton was "mistakenly struck" with a live round during the lesson's "first scenario," the department said.
She was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead, the PGPD said.
Lewis, who was named the permanent chief in March after serving as the interim, called the shooting a "horrible accident."
"Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event," he said in a news conference Tuesday night. "I am asking that if you pray, you pray for Mary's husband and family and for all the officers and witnesses that involved this incident. Everyone involved is in an overwhelming state of shock and grief."
Knowlton was a board member with Friends of the Punta Gorda Library, according to the organization's webpage. She was originally from Minnesota, according to her Facebook page.
Punta Gorda police didn't immediately identify the officer involved, but said he or she has been placed on administrative leave. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been asked to conduct an investigation into the incident, which is common in officer-involved shootings.
The academy is a free eight-session course offered to as many as 35 people who are interested in learning local civics, according to Punta Gorda's official website. The class meets biweekly on Tuesdays at different government buildings from January to May.
Knowlton's class met at the department at 5:30 p.m., according to Lt. Katie Heck.
I was reading the paper today and there was a lengthy editorial article on "Donald Trump's Winter White House".
"Let's begin at the Everglades Club, the most exclusive of the exclusive clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., the most exclusive town in the United States of America, the village of millionaires and billionaires (30 of the 400 richest people on Earth own property here), where Donald Trump has a place called Mar-a-Lago that is emerging as the new Winter White House, and where the President elect is spending the holidays before his inauguration. The Everglades Club didn't allow Jews or African-Americans for a long time, although insiders in Palm Beach claim that is no longer the case. It still isn't keen on all kinds of white people."
"The Everglades Club is a very particular place. Members are not to use cellphones while on club property. If you, a non-member, walk under the portico of the Everglades Club, at the foot of glistening Worth Avenue, the high-end shopping boulevard in the Palm Beach, two things happen. At least six young men in white golf shirts, white shorts, white socks and white gym shoes jump to attention. They all want to valet-park your car. You do not have a car. Then you are approached by an African-American man. He is wearing a frock coat and a tie and a pair of small, round, Ben Franklin-style spectacles. He is straight out of Dickens. He peers at you over his specs, and says, 'Can I help you, sir?' 'What is this place?' you say, marveling at the vast emerald golf course in the distance, marveling, also if that is the right word, at the optics of appointing a black man to do so visible a job for so many white people. 'I can't tell you that, sir,' he says. 'Is it the Everglades Club?' you counter. You already know it's the Everglades Club, but you ask anyway. It's definitely not the Palm Beach Country Club, which the Jewish community started for its own kind..."
The article then goes on about some Publix that has valet parking there. I didn't know rich people had to shop for groceries. And then it goes to how Trump lets anyone to Mar-a-Lago as long as you write a cheque and pay your dues - even if you're Jewish or black.
And all this time I thought New Yorkers were snobbish.